Altria Asks FDA to Correct Nicotine Misperceptions

Tobacco company says doing so will help adult consumers make informed decisions
Altria logo

RICHMOND, Va. — When the Center for Tobacco Products’ (CTP) plans its $100 million-plus public education campaign, Altria has a request.

The Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company wants the CTP to “correct the deeply entrenched public misperceptions regarding the health risks of nicotine,” Altria Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Paige Magness wrote in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) CTP Director Mitch Zeller.

“Left unaddressed, these widespread nicotine misperceptions could discourage adult smokers from switching to non-combustible tobacco products that may present lower health risk as compared to combustible cigarettes,” Magness said in the Feb. 25 letter, which Altria made public.

Committing resources to correct nicotine misperceptions will help adult tobacco consumers make informed decisions based on science and evidence, Magness said.

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical compound present in the tobacco plant, but it’s not what makes tobacco use so deadly, the FDA said on its website in a post last updated on Aug. 28.

Tobacco and tobacco smoke contain thousands of chemicals. It is this mix of chemicals—not nicotine—that causes serious disease and death in tobacco users, including fatal lung diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer,” the FDA said.

Altria wants the FDA to include this information in the CTP’s new public education campaign to show consumers that nicotine is not directly responsible for the “death and disease caused by smoking,” Magness wrote, citing recent studies that found people believed nicotine was the main substance in cigarettes that causes cancer.

This messaging could encourage consumers to consider Altria’s IQOS, which the FDA said in July could be marketed as a modified risk tobacco product. Altria is under an exclusive licensing agreement with Philip Morris International, New York, to commercialize IQOS and its compressed-tobacco HeatSticks in the United States.

IQOS is a heated tobacco system that allows adult smokers to use tobacco by heating instead of burning it. Switching completely from conventional cigarettes to the IQOS system significantly reduces exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals, the FDA said, citing scientific studies; however, this does not mean the products are safe or FDA approved.

Whether the FDA will take Altria’s suggestion into consideration is unclear.

“The FDA has received the letter and will respond directly to Altria,” FDA press officer Alison Hunt said in a March 11 email to CSP.

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